Tag Archives: baking

Book Review: SprinkleBakes!

Book Review  - Talk Sweet to Me

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Today we’re taking a look at SprinkleBakes: Dessert Recipes to Inspire Your Inner Artist by Heather Baird. What an adorable book! Filled with recipes and great ideas to “pretty things up,” SprinkleBakes is a perfect addition to any baker’s library. I had a lot of fun looking thorough to gather new techniques and tips to add to my baking repertoire.

Sprinklebakes book review - Talk Sweet to Me

First of all, I loved the artist theme. Heather Baird is an amazing artist in many different ways. In this book, “Blank Canvases” gives you the recipes to start with as you go through each project. In the “Line” section you learn to decorate with brushes, sponges, and stamps. The “Color” section discusses color theory, tinted cake and icings, and other vivid desserts. “Mixed Media” brings together many techniques in one project. From the titles of the chapters to the dessert drawings on the front cover, dessert is truly an art form with SprinkleBakes!

The book goes through everything from supplies and equipment to tips and tricks for each of the included projects. A lot of those techniques are universal, meaning they could definitely be applied to other projects you’ve got in your head and want to make happen in sugar.

I personally found the individual techniques and the resources section of the book more helpful and useful than the individual projects since the projects did not necessarily fit my style. Even so, I have happily put this book on my shelf and bring it out on rainy days to try something new. I’m hoping to make the macarons soon…this obsessed baker has (crazily enough!) never attempted them before!

Cookbooks - Talk Sweet to Me

My other favorites to drool over and/or dream of making were the Diagonal Chocolate Mousse Cups, Postcard Cookies (a neat stamping with wafer paper technique!), Salted Caramel Cupcakes with salted caramel candy halos, Vanilla Bean Baby Doughnuts, and the Glittering Cookie Tree. I can definitely see the cookie tree happening at a certain little girl’s first birthday party this September!

If you’re looking for a great book to add to your shelf, check out SprinkleBakes: Dessert Recipes to Inspire Your Inner Artist by Heather Baird soon!

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Chocolate Mint Wedding Cupcakes

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

Flashback - talksweettome.com

Originally posted August 31, 2008

I traveled to California this fall and got to make the cupcakes for my friend Louisa’s wedding. I knew I was going to forget something at home and sure enough I did. Poor Louisa had to drive me all over to get the essential supplies (including the very necessary caffeine jolt I get from diet mountain dew). At least I remembered the recipe! Yummm, batter:

Cake batter - Talk Sweet to Me

This was by far the most fun I’ve had making a wedding cake (or in this case, cupcakes) since I left Planet Cake. Friends were everywhere so we had a lot of laughs, made a colossal mess, and everyone jumped in to help without hesitation…it was so much fun!

Robin and Jocelyn sorted the mini m&ms into colors so we could use them as a simple decoration to finish off the top of the cupcakes.

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Lou got the cupcake liners ready…

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…and the fabulous Amanda took cupcakes out of the pan and set them on wire racks to cool.

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And we were finished baking, except for the “secret” top tier. Louisa wanted to keep things simple, so told me she didn’t want a cutting cake. However, a cupcake stand does not seem complete without having that cake on top for cutting during the wedding reception! Plus, it’s tradition. Jocelyn provided the perfect distraction taking Lou and Eddie away to practice the ceremony, and the rest of us discreetly mixed up another batch of cake and stuck it in the oven. Louisa wanted easy, I wanted perfect…we ended up with the best of both worlds. Ha ha!

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There was a bit of extra cake leftover, which was perfect for taste-testing. These cupcakes were what the cupcake trials were for…luckily, Eddie liked the cake!

Edding testing cake

Time to put together the cupcake stand, covering it with icing and a yellow ribbon surround to match the wedding colors. There was an audience!

Covering boards for cupcake stand

Ribbons to cupcake stand

After the cupcakes cooled we mixed up the mint-buttercream frosting. I’ve never baked or decorated with wine in the other hand before, but it was just another thing that added to the fun this time around! If you’ve never tried it before either, put it on your to-do list. (And don’t worry, it won’t be a regular thing. I like my piping in straight, even lines, thank you very much. Although now that I think about it, a Madhatter cake might be easier this way. Hmmm…)

Baking with wine

The next morning I placed some bright, colorful fresh flowers on the cutting cake. I’d never used fresh flowers before, but tried to take the principles Handi taught me with sugar flowers and apply them to the real thing.

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We were going for a fun, spontaneous, loose, garden-type feel (smooth, but not smooth…loose, but not loose…I still hear Handi at times like these!). The look is a bit different from most of the other cakes I’ve been producing, but it was perfect for Lou and Eddie’s wedding.

Time to transport everything (the part that always has me on-edge)! The ceremony and reception were held at Thibodo Park, which was absolutely gorgeous.

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The cake set-up:

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Cake and cupcake display - Talk Sweet to Me

Lou and Eddie’s friends Steve and Nicole are professional photographers (check out their website here), and took all of the photos for the wedding. They were kind enough to share some of them:

Lou wedding photo8-cake

Lou wedding photo5-cake

Time to eat some cake!

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This is my favorite photograph that Steve and Nicole took. The bride and groom both look so happy, and Louisa is completely adorable…what great smiles!

Lou wedding photo2

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Red and Aqua Wedding Cake – My First Cake Delivery!

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

Flashback - talksweettome.com

Originally posted August 9, 2008

I met with a very fun couple back in July and was hired to make the cake for their early August wedding at Kansas City’s Uptown Theater.

They wanted a cake in these colors to match their invitations and the venue…

Invitation pattern

…and similar in style to the cake in this picture that they gave to me to match their fun and laid-back personalities:

Inspiration cake

Here is the design they chose:

Design drawing

They wanted a 3-tier white chocolate mud cake and two kitchen cakes in vanilla white and yellow butter flavors. It was a lot of baking, but of course, any amount of cake seems trivial now compared to the cake trials.

Baked cake

So the boards were prepared, the cakes were ganached, and the center pole was constructed.

Ganached tiers2

I hadn’t covered a square cake for a while, but got a whole bunch of practice at once this week.

Ganached tiers

Covered square tiers

After stacking the cake it was time to move on to the mixing of the colors. I spent at least a half hour (probably closer to 45 minutes), and made a colossal mess trying to come up with the correct shade of red to match the invitations.

coloring fondant

My hands ended up being nearly the same color…

red hands

Oh yeah…that’s what those gloves were for! Next it was time to carve the “K” for the cake topper. I cut it out of styro, secured it to the skewer, and covered it in the red icing.

Styro cake topper

Red K initial cake topper

The “K” cake topper was finished off with silver cachous around the outside to match the “i do” lettering on the middle tier.

I decorated the tiers from the top down so as not to mess up anything I’d already created by leaning my elbows on it or something similarly klutzy. The stripes:

Cake in progress4 - Talk Sweet to Me

The front rectangle piece for the ‘i do’ had to go on next, and was surrounded by red and aqua bubbles:

Cake in progress2 - Talk Sweet to Me

Starting the checkerboard pattern:

Cake in progress - Talk Sweet to Me

For efficiency’s sake, a piece of cardboard was cut to the correct width and used to cut all of the red and aqua squares. It made life a lot easier than measuring every time I needed to make a cut.

Cutting squares equipmentJust a few silver cachous added on for the ‘i do’ and here is the finished cake!

Decorated cake - Talk Sweet to Me

It was a bit late (or early, if you prefer) when I finished this one.

Finish time

The last thing I had to stress about was the delivery, but that went as smooth as silk because I had such great help (you know who you are)!!!

Red and Aqua Wedding Cake - Talk Sweet to Me

Am I proud of my first successful wedding cake delivery? Ummm…yes, I suppose I am.

Lisa at delivery

The best part of the delivery was running into the bride and her bridesmaids as they were coming in to set up for the reception. They were literally jumping up and down and shrieking with delight as the cake came out of the box. I think they were happy with it…

Bride and bridesmaids exclaim - Talk Sweet to Me…which makes me very happy too.

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Cake Recipe Testing

Blast from the past - www.talksweettome.com

Maybe this early on in the life of Talk Sweet to Me I shouldn’t show you how cake-crazy and obsessed with perfection I am, but you’ll probably get that idea eventually anyway. For the past several months I’ve been sharing bits and pieces from my old blog which chronicled my start in the cake business. This post is one of my favorites.

“Cake Recipe Testing” was written shortly after I returned to the United States from Australia to show what I did to develop my go-to cake recipes. I hate to admit this, but on the very first order that I completed on my own, I was devastated when the customer complained that the cake was very dry and fell apart. It was the birthday cake recipe that was used in my family for years! That feedback inspired this frantic quest to find the best cake recipes EVER. Was I glad I did it? Yes…I developed a library of recipes I could count on again and again. Would I ever want to do it again? Heck, no. It was a lot of work!

Hope you’ll enjoy this blast from the past!

Written May 2008 - talksweettome.com

Over the past month and a half, I have been doing a bit of baking. By a bit, I mean that I tried 47 different cake recipes in order to narrow it down to fifteen that I can count on to be fabulous. It was tiring, it was messy, it was expensive, it was crazy, and it was worth it.

Do you know the looks you get when you walk into the grocery store and buy 4 packages of 18 eggs each, multiple large bags of flour and sugar, at least six pounds of butter, and mounds of (expensive!) chocolate bars? I got all of those when I went to pick up the ingredients. 75 eggs!

Ingredients for taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

I wanted to wear a sign on my forehead that said “I’m not eating all of this by myself,” (or maybe it would have been funnier if it said I was eating all of it myself!) but it turned out to be a good conversation starter. The guy who rang me up at the checkout counter asked me if there were real carrots in carrot cake. Seriously…

On Thursday afternoon I started making the box mix cakes. It is so easy…

Baking for taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

The first cake testing was held on Saturday, and I figured if there were any cakes that could withstand a couple days of being wrapped with plastic wrap, it would be the unnaturally moist, preservative-filled box mix cakes. Should I tell you how I really feel about box mix cakes??

And that’s not even half of what was made for the first tasting…I spent the next two days, right up to the 2pm tasting, making the rest of the cake. Luckily, my friend Kate, who also bakes and decorates cakes, was my accomplice in these extreme cake endeavors. She did everything from gathering supplies (who knew it would be next-to-impossible to find crème fraiche in Iowa?), to helping with the baking, to cutting the cakes and preparing for the tastings. It is great to know someone who is not only fun to hang out with, but who is also as obsessed with cake as I am. Here she is preparing for the first tasting:

Jones taste testing3 - www.talksweettome.com

Two friends of mine offered to host the tastings at their homes. The first tasting at Sarah and Dan’s house consisted of 26 different kinds of cake, some from a mix and some from scratch. Each of the mix cakes were paired with their corresponding from-scratch cake for the tasting for the ultimate in taste-testing analysis potential.

Jones taste testing2 - www.talksweettome.com

We learned from this tasting that 26 cakes, even when just trying a bite or two of each, was waaaayyyy too much cake and most tasters wanted nothing to do with cake for the next three weeks. No one should ever hate cake, and I think some of them did by the time we were finished.

Jones taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

That is why the second tasting at Katie and Kyle’s house had “just” 15 different cakes. Even fifteen different kinds of cake was pushing it for a few. But they were brave, soldiering on through the feelings of full-ness and sugar saturation.

Katie taste testing - www.talksweettome.com

To keep the tasting anonymous, I gave cakes different names and didn’t tell the tasters whether it was from scratch or from a mix. My scientific background finally came in handy with research methods!

Katie taste testing2 - www.talksweettome.com

For each kind of cake they tried, the tasters filled out a form that ranked the taste/flavor, texture, moisture, appearance, and perception of overall quality of the cake…and they also had to guess whether the cake was from a mix or from scratch. I realize this was just *slightly* over-the-top and I may have looked like a cake-obsessed fool with too much time on my hands, but in the end it was really, really helpful.

The results - talksweettome.com
From compiling the surveys, I found that most people can taste a cake mix accurately…but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like it. I also concluded that there is no way I can use a boxed mix for my cakes. They are easy and inexpensive, but…for me they are cheating. And my tasters said that if a person is going to pay for a cake, they want to feel like they couldn’t have gone to the store and whipped it up out of a box themselves. Quite right. That is why I did all of this ridiculous work.

I am going to go rest now.

Looking back - talksweettome.com

When I look back at this, I’m fairly certain I’d do things differently this time around to develop recipes, but I still find this posting too hilarious to not share. One of the people who commented on this posting way-back-when said she concentrated on finding just one good recipe at a time and gathered smaller groups of friends to taste-test…a good vanilla recipe first, then a good chocolate, then red velvet, etc. It’s a great excuse to get friends together, and if you do one flavor at a time people might even go back for seconds of their favorite recipe, which is sometimes even more telling!

So…has anyone else out there done something similarly crazy? How did you come up with your go-to recipes? Please share your adventures with me in the comments!

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Trial and Error – Cupcake Recipe Taste Testing!

The following was originally posted on my first blog, The Planet Cake Intern, as I learned the art of cake decorating and began putting together the very first pieces of my cake business in Kansas City. 

Flashback - talksweettome.com

Originally posted May 2008

My very good friend Louisa is getting married in California this fall and I volunteered to provide a cake for her wedding. She requested mint-chocolate cupcakes, since that is a favorite flavor combination (we ate waaayyy too many chocolate-mint brownies as roommates in college). Before the wedding, I figured I’d better find a great recipe and try it out. It was a good thing I did.

I found a cupcake blog with a recipe posted on it for chocolate cupcakes filled with a chocolate-mint ganache and topped with mint buttercream icing. Sounds out-of-this-world fabulous, right? So I baked up the cupcakes, made up the ganache, piped it into the cupcakes, and topped it with the recipe provided for the buttercream.

Here they are cooling on the rack:

Cupcakes cooling on rack - Talk Sweet to Me

And a picture of the cupcakes split in half showing the ganache inside:

Mint chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache filling - Talk Sweet to Me

Then it was time to taste-test for quality control. I brought in my mom, who is probably to blame for my sweet tooth, and who also has discerning taste. We both took a bite and…bleh! The first problem was that the cream for the ganache was infused with real mint leaves. It came out tasting like…plants. I’ll be using mint extract from now on. Then the cupcakes were so dry (even though I used moistening syrup) that they crumbled apart like dirt…and sort of tasted like dirt as well. So the end result was a bit too earthy. Dirt texture and taste, plant flavor, etc. Gross. On to trial #2.

Trial #2 was a recipe from a cookbook that my mom has had forever. It wasn’t good either. However, my mom did get creative with the decorating part of things after coming in from the garden.

Mom decorating cupcakes - Talk Sweet to Me

Halfway through the tasting she says to me, “You know, you’re not the only one around here who can decorate cake.” Here was her creation.

Mom cupcake decoration - Talk Sweet to Me

A half-eaten cupcake with some gorgeous m&m’s pushed into it. She makes me so proud! We had a good laugh about that. At least it could solve a chocolate craving.

Trial #3 was from  one of those cupcake cookbooks where you add stuff to a mix to try to make it taste like a scratch cake. The cupcakes were fairly good and stayed moist for several days, but they still taste like a mix and I still feel like I’m cheating. However, this form of “cheating” requires almost just as much effort as making cupcakes from scratch since you have to add cocoa, buttermilk, whole milk, etc. to the mixture anyway, and it creates just as much mess. I personally think it contradicts the convenience of using a mix and it just doesn’t make that much sense. If you’re going to make a mess and take the time to measure out ingredients, for goodness sake, just make it from scratch!

I have to admit, though, that it is very convenient to make a cake from a box. You can’t mess it up, and it simply involves dumping the package into a bowl along with some eggs, oil, and water. So easy!

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For this trial, I used my own buttercream frosting recipe with mint extract added instead of the usual vanilla. That buttercream is definitely the winner and will be used in the final version.

Chocolate mint cupcakes - Talk Sweet to Me

In the end, I have decided to use one of the recipes I discovered during my cake taste-test trials from my friend Katie (who is a fabulous baker and excellent taste-tester!), fill the cupcakes with dark chocolate ganache, and top it with the winning recipe for mint buttercream. Easy.

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Lemon Yellow Bridal Shower Cake

Lemon lemon lemon - talksweettomeLast weekend I had the honor of making the bridal shower cake for a friend’s daughter. She gave me an inspiration cake, color scheme, and flavor choice, which was “Lemon, lemon, and MORE LEMON!” Needless to say, only a lemon cake with lemon curd filling and vanilla buttercream would do!

Cake design - talksweettome.comThe color scheme for the shower was bright yellow with navy blue and white accents. I was given this image as the inspiration cake…

Inspiration cake - talksweettome.comCake designer unknown

…but also given free reign to interpret the design in my own style. Don’t you love it when people trust you to be good at what you do?! Here’s what I came up with, all drawn very formally in blue pen on the back of an envelope:

Cake sketch on envelope - talksweettome.com

The cake - talksweettomeThen of course comes the baking, assembly, and decorating!

Baking lemon cake2 - talksweettome.comLemon bridal shower cake - talksweettome.comThe cake was delivered, my friend was thrilled, and then it was time for me to put my 8-months-pregnant-and-very-tired feet up to rest!

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Vanilla Cake Recipe Testing – Part 1

Truth Time - talksweettome.comSo, it’s truth time. I pretty much hate vanilla cake. Not the flavor – because that’s truly delicious – but because the perfect recipe for it continues to remain elusive. Come out, come out, wherever you are!

The Best Vanilla Cake Recipe Quest - talksweettome.comSure, there was a recipe I used for my business for the many brides who wanted a traditional white cake on their wedding day. But I never LOVED it the way I loved my chocolate or lemon recipes. So recently I tried Sweetapolita’s Fluffy Vanilla Cake recipe that she worked out while on her own quest for the perfect white cake recipe. Here is a link to many of her vanilla cake recipes. I truly admire her dedication (and her blog is pretty amazing too, of course!).

The cake - talksweettome.comMy husband and I had a couple friends over for dinner, so I had the perfect excuse and willing guinea pigs to test the recipe on. The cake was off to a good start when it rose nicely in the oven and smelled like my grandma’s sugar cookies when it came out. Heavenly.

Cutting into the cake was beautiful – it held it’s shape and made a very clean cut. At first bite, we were all met with a very nice melt-in-your-mouth texture and it was moist enough the night that I baked it. However, it still dried out very quickly and had that “white cake” flavor that I don’t like. Maybe that’s the baking powder? Alas, it made me want to pour the rest of the bottle of my favorite vanilla into it, but then again that seems like overreacting. And I might need it for another trial run.

Slice of Cake - Vanilla Cake Recipe Testing - talksweettome.comSlice of cake - talksweettome.comThe whipped vanilla bean icing was very buttery, but does taste wonderful in small doses. I LOVE the vanilla bean flecks in it!

Fluffy Vanilla Cake - talksweettome.comThe conclusion - talksweettome.comOverall, the cake recipe was met with rave reviews by my friends and co-workers, but this cake-obsessed fool is still on the hunt for the best vanilla white scratch cake recipe ever. Stay tuned!

Do you have a favorite vanilla cake recipe made from scratch? How did you find it?

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